This is meant as a companion to this thread regarding a 4X game I'm trying to develop, but assesses a much different topic.
I've noticed, with puzzlement, that most 4X games are proud to present ship customization as their core gameplay elements.
Once again here, I'm not debating that its fun and interesting, but rather, I'm surprised I'm unable to find any 4X game that has preset ships so to speak.
My reasoning is as follows (once again based on VGA Planets' approach):
If you can customize your ships, you can craft a fleet that resembles you, embraces your playstyle. While this is very fun, and allows for some learning (you learn by making mistakes), I find it less challenging. It often becomes more a matter of how many ships you can bring, or whether you can build the strongest ship rather than how you use each individual ship and insure they fit their role. Ships will either specialized efficiently or tend to go broad, without consistency.
Let's take an example: Chess.
Chess is fun because, while you're not proficient with all of the pieces, you generally win the game by utilizing all of your pieces efficiently. You might be a Queen-lover and be deadly with it, but learning to master the knight will allow you to capture your opponent's queen more efficiently in many cases.
By losing games, you hone your craft of chess mastery through learning how to best utilize pieces you are not proficient with. Over time, opponents will figure what pieces you are not skilled with, and exploit the game by leveraging your shortcomings to their advantage. At such point, it won't matter how good you've become killing pawns with your Queen if you can't sidestep your knights in fork positions.
This, in my opinion, is also why Chess is a lot more fun than checkers. At checkers, you need to learn a single pattern, and apply it everywhere. The game is more a question of awareness than tactic.
Now, think of chess as a game where each piece has a value, and you get to purchase your army up to a total amount of points. You're likely to pick whichever piece you are proficient with, completely ignoring the ones you believe are weak (by lack of predisposition). In other words, you'll avoid the issue of trying to learn and appreciate them. While it makes for a fun game (I'm pretty sure a 4 queens vs 10 knights game would be interesting for example), it also lacks a lot of substance.
Also, if there are seemingly dominant strategies, all players will converge towards the same strategies in such a way that they become too similar (queens vs queens). You'll end up playing the opponent rather than the opponent's playstyle of an established concept.
In VGA Planets, ships are much more organic. When you pick a species, you need to carefully consider their fleet arsenal. They rarely have fully dedicated ships for a certain purposes. A lot of them are well-rounded, but particular traits make them slightly more or less efficient at one thing or another. More importantly, all fleets lack specific components, and this creatures an innate weakness of this species. Strategies often evolve from the conflicting weaknesses, and it becomes fun as this is problem solving for the player: how am I going to perform this necessary task when I don't have an optimal ship to do it? Various players will come with different ways to cope for this, discuss it over forums, look for ways to min/max each ship to their advantage.
All of this because players can interact based on things they all share: ships.
When ships are customizable, players will only share blueprints on how to build them, and the purpose they have, but it won't account for the real problem solving as it won't cater to any specific weakness.
A species whose warships are nearly all carriers will find itself at an advantage (they are very strong) and a disadvantage (it costs $$$ to produce fighters and replenish them). It will dictate that they will try to fight the enemy in masse where they can quickly dispath most ships in a volley, and will avoid specialists that can either disrupt all of their fighters or target their hull directly (lots of beams, or lots of torpedoes).
If there's one ship in their arsenal that gives them lots of beams and/or torpedoes, no matter how inefficient, it will probably get used. People will complain that it is weak, but they'll be happy they have it to react to some situations.
When a species has 6-12 ship designs, that are all preset, you can bet you'll utilize most of them over the span of several games.
This compares well to an RTS such as Starcraft. In Starcraft, the units are unique for each species, and preset. Players understand how each unit interact on the battlefield, and they learn to counter strategies as efficiently as they can. They also have favorites, but know they can't stick to them throughout the game if the opponent plays wisely.
Now, I can imagine an RTS with customizable units, and it would be fun, but it'd probably less challenging and rewarding.
My objective here is twofold:
- I'd like to open this discussion, as I don't believe I've covered all bases. While I believe this is a good approach, I'm affraid I might have missed obvious pitfalls.
- I'm looking for reference 4X games with preset ship lists with relatively small or no customization capabilities. My researches this far have been rather poor. I've isolated VGA Planets (core reference) and Star Knights as avenues I can further research and base my work upon. Any other title I should look into?